A second experimental COVID-19 vaccine—this one from Moderna Inc.—yielded extraordinarily strong early results, the company said Monday, another badly needed dose of hope as the pandemic enters a terrible new phase.
Moderna said its vaccine appears to be 94.5% effective, according to preliminary data from an ongoing study. A week ago, competitor Pfizer Inc. announced its own vaccine looked 90% effective—news that puts both companies on track to seek permission within weeks for emergency use in the U.S.
The results are “truly striking,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, the U.S. government’s top infectious-diseases expert. “The vaccines that we’re talking about, and vaccines to come, are really the light at the end of the tunnel.”
A vaccine can’t come fast enough, as virus cases topped 11 million in the U.S. over the weekend— 1 million of them recorded in just the past week—and governors and mayors are ratcheting up restrictions ahead of Thanksgiving. The outbreak has killed more than 1.3 million people worldwide, over 246,000 of them in the U.S.
Stocks rallied on Wall Street and around the world on rising hopes that the global economy could start returning to normal in the coming months. The Dow Jones Industrial Average gained more than 470 points, or 1.6%, to close at a record high of over 29,950. Moderna stock was up almost 10%.
Both vaccines require two shots given several weeks apart. U.S. officials said they hope to have about 20 million Moderna doses and another 20 million of the vaccine made by Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech to use in late December.
Dr. Stephen Hoge, Moderna’s president, welcomed the “really important milestone” but said having similar results from two companies is what is most reassuring.
“That should give us all hope that actually a vaccine is going to be able to stop this pandemic and hopefully get us back to our lives,” Hoge told The Associated Press. He added: “It won’t be Moderna alone that solves this problem. It’s going to require many vaccines” to meet the global demand.
If the Food and Drug Administration allows emergency use of Moderna’s or Pfizer’s candidate, there will be limited, rationed supplies before the end of the year.
Exactly who is first in line has yet to be decided. But Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said the hope is that enough doses are available by the end of January to vaccinate adults over 65, who are at the highest risk from the coronavirus, and health care workers. Fauci said it might take until spring or summer before anyone who is not high risk and wants a shot can get one.
Neal Browning of Bothell, Washington, who rolled up his sleeve back in March for the first testing of Moderna’s vaccine in humans, said he is excited about Monday’s “excellent news” but is still carefully wearing a mask and taking other precautions.
“I’m super happy to be a part of this and to try and help bring some kind of peace back to the world,” Browning said. “I have a lot of hope.”
The National Institutes of Health helped create the vaccine Moderna is manufacturing, and NIH’s director, Dr. Francis Collins, said the two companies’ parallel results give scientists “a lot of confidence that we’re on the path towards having effective vaccines.”
But “we’re also at this really dark time,” he warned, saying people can’t let down their guard during the months it will take for doses of any vaccines cleared by the FDA to start reaching a large share of the population.
Moderna’s vaccine is being studied in 30,000 volunteers who received either the real thing or a dummy shot. On Sunday, an independent monitoring board examined 95 infections that were recorded after volunteers’ second shot. Only five of the illnesses were in people given the vaccine.
Earlier this year, Fauci said he would be happy with a COVID-19 vaccine that was 60% effective.
The study is continuing, and Moderna acknowledged the protection rate might change as more COVID-19 infections are detected. Also, it’s too soon to know how long protection lasts. Both cautions apply to Pfizer’s vaccine, as well.
But Moderna’s independent monitors reported some additional promising tidbits: All 11 severe COVID-19 cases were among placebo recipients, and there were no significant safety concerns. The main side effects were fatigue, muscle aches and injection-site pain after the second dose.
Scientists not involved with the testing were encouraged but cautioned that the FDA still must scrutinize the safety data and decide whether to allow vaccinations outside of a research study.
“We’re not to the finish line yet,” said Dr. James Cutrell, an infectious-disease expert at UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas. “If there’s an impression or perception that there’s just a rubber stamp or due diligence wasn’t done to look at the data, that could weaken public confidence.”
States already are gearing up for what is expected to be the biggest vaccination campaign in U.S. history. First the shots have to arrive where they’re needed, and Pfizer’s must be kept at ultra-cold temperatures—around minus 94 degrees Fahrenheit. Moderna’s vaccine also starts off frozen, but the company said Monday it can be thawed and kept in a regular refrigerator for 30 days, easing that concern.
Beyond the U.S., other governments and the World Health Organization, which aims to buy doses for poor countries, will have to separately decide if and when vaccines should be rolled out broadly.
“There are many, many questions still remaining,” including how long protection lasts and if the first vaccines to emerge work as well in older people as in the young, said WHO chief scientist Dr. Soumya Swaminathan. “We also hope the clinical trials will continue to collect data, because it’s really going to be important for us to know in the long term.”
The vaccine from Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Moderna is among 11 candidates in late-stage testing around the world, four of them in huge studies in the United States. Collins stressed that more U.S. volunteers are needed for those studies.
Elsewhere around the world, China and Russia have been offering different experimental vaccines to people before completing final-stage testing.
Both Moderna’s shots and the Pfizer-BioNTech candidate are so-called mRNA vaccines, a brand-new technology. They aren’t made with the coronavirus itself, meaning there’s no chance anyone could catch it from the shots. Instead, the vaccine contains a piece of genetic code that trains the immune system to recognize the spiked protein on the surface of the virus.
Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla tweeted that he was thrilled at Moderna’s news, saying, “Our companies share a common goal—defeating this dreaded disease.”
Rock County is warning people to avoid most gatherings because of rapid increases in positive tests for the coronavirus and rising numbers of hospitalizations and deaths.
Rock County in October had more positive cases reported than all previous months of the pandemic combined, and 30% of all cases reported during the pandemic in the county have been in the past 16 days, according to the health department.
The department also reported 14 deaths from COVID-19 so far in November and a doubling of the number of people hospitalized for the disease since Nov. 1.
The warning comes as the Thanksgiving holiday and the gun-deer season approach, but the guidance says people should avoid gatherings of any size with anyone not living in the same household.
County Health Officer Marie-Noel Sandoval told WCLO Radio that officials are seeing outbreaks among people who attended small gatherings and thatpeople are wrong to think they are safe if they hold gatherings with family members they don’t live with.
The county Public Health Department on Monday said it was recommending more restrictions by shifting from Phase 2 to Phase 1 of its reopening plan.
As part of Phase 1, the department issued this guidance:
Sandoval referred to the rules as “guidance” and “recommendations.”
There are 2,530 active and confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus in Rock County, up one from Sunday, according to data from the Rock County Public Health Department.
On Monday, 190 new cases were reported to the health department. The county hit a record for new cases Sunday with 306, according to the data.
Since March, 60 Rock County residents have died from the disease.
As of Saturday, 70 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 in Rock County hospitals, just shy of the county’s record of 72 hospitalizations, according to the data.
Of test results returned to the county Monday, 39% were positive.
Rock County’s COVID-19 data is as bad as it has been at any point in the pandemic across the board. Data shows trends are much worse than in April, when the state was mostly shut down.
The county started its reopening plan May 21 with Phase 1, according to the health department website.
The less restrictive Phase 2 went into effect July 10.
Phase 2 limited gatherings in stores, libraries and churches to 50% capacity. Phase 1 calls for 25%.
Phase 2 recommended virtual classes and protective measures when schools are open. Phase 1 says schools should provide virtual options and pivot to virtual schooling for a minimum of two weeks after any holiday or extended break.
Janesville Fire Chief Ernie Rhodes, who has led the city’s pandemic response, said city officials would meet Monday to review the health department’s recommendations and consider what responses, if any, the city should make.
Also Monday, Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Wis., announced he was in quarantine because his 91-year-old mother, with whom he had been in masked contact, had tested positive for the virus.
Wade Robert Granlund
Norma J. Halverson
Robyn M. Legan
Barbara A. Lervik
James R. “Jim” Polarski
Noe “Nono” Rendon Jr.
Italian House operator Edmund Halabi looked at his dine-in lunch crowd Monday: exactly two tables, which brought in about $2 of profits for the restaurant.
Halabi wishes Rock County public health officials—and Gov. Tony Evers—could have seen the practically nonexistent dine-in crowd in the east-side family restaurant.
The Italian House’s lunch crowd was nowhere near the 50% occupancy cap the county’s health department had earlier recommended at bars and restaurants when it moved several months ago into from a Phase 1 COVID-19 recovery plan to Phase 2.
Nor was Halabi’s dining room even close to hitting a 25% occupancy cap the county’s health department recommended Monday when it advised bars and restaurants revert to a Phase 1 plan.
Halabi and other restaurants and bar operators in Janesville told The Gazette on Monday they have already seen a dramatic fallout in their most lucrative customers: dine-in patrons.
They’re now bracing for a continued dearth they think will likely be reinforced by the county’s recommended dining capacity rollback.
Halabi said he has recently reached a peak of frustration with county and state officials because he believes COVID-19 recommendations are falling disproportionately heavily on small restaurants and bars. He believes the measures have “stigmatized” dining and drinking establishments and saddled businesses such as his as “the main culprit” in a rise in COVID cases.
But he thinks the county’s new dining rollback recommendation—a move prompted by out-of-control COVID infection rates countywide and statewide—epitomizes a disconnect between science, common sense and public policy.
Halabi believes the county’s new recommended rollback won’t help stem a rise in COVID cases because, he said, those same measures didn’t seem to work earlier this year and because no other public places, including other types of workplaces, are throttling back the same way.
What should happen instead, Halabi believes: Gov. Evers should lock down the entire state for the next two weeks—including all schools and all businesses except grocers, medical providers and gas stations.
Halabi, a pasta chef for four decades, used an analogy that describes crowd restrictions as “Band-Aids” used to cover just a few holes in a spaghetti colander:
“You put a Band-Aid over four holes, but what have you really clogged up? The water’s going to come through the other holes in that colander. You can’t fix that with bandages, and we’ve wasted enough time since March trying to. We’re still wasting time,” he said. “Shut the state down.”
Earlier this year, the state Supreme Court ruled in favor of a Republican state Legislature-led lawsuit that essentially blocked Evers from implementing such COVID shutdown mandates.
And the same Republicans want the same court to strike down Evers’ public face-covering mandate, a rule set to expire Saturday.
Halabi said he believes the problem transcends state politics and partisan fighting, but he said small businesses most affected don’t seem to have a voice in government decisions.
“I don’t have the governor’s phone number. I don’t have a phone number for the county’s nursing director. But I’m a voice of concern. And what I’m looking at in front of me is a small business financial crisis,” he said. “I’m expecting leaders out there in our government to be having a real dialogue going on right now.”
Halabi conceives that the state and federal government could respond to states that shut down commerce and public spaces for a period by releasing more rescue stimulus to small businesses, although he's not relying on that happening.
Neither businesses nor state and local governments have control over whether the federal government makes more COVID stimulus available at a later date, and a federal response at this point seems to tilt toward a focus on quickly bringing a coronavirus vaccine to the fore, possibly by mid-2021.
President-elect Joe Biden's transition team has signaled that Biden at this time would not aim to enact a unilateral, national COVID lockdown.
Media reports indicate that President Donald Trump's administration continues to keep Biden's transition team at arms length on COVID-19 briefings that have come since the Nov. 3 presidential election.
Shawnna Shabani, co-owner of the Eagle Inn Family Restaurant on Janesville’s south side, isn’t entertaining the idea of a shutdown, but she might be the city’s poster child for taking what public officials and businesses have referred to as “an abundance of caution” during the COVID pandemic.
Shabani on Monday was decked out in protective glasses, a surgical mask, a head covering and gloves and a plastic face mask adorned with printed eyebrows.
The operator of the family diner said she still sees too many people come into her restaurant with no mask on and no intention to wear one. That’s because the state exempts masks in bars and restaurants. It bothers Shabani, particularly because she has worked hard to keep her regular patrons safe.
The restaurant’s dining counter for weeks has had police tape cordoning it off to customers, an eye-catching reminder that the restaurant continues to adhere to social distancing guidelines.
At noon Monday, Shabani had about seven patrons dining in, and large swaths of the dining room were vacant, with some areas blocked off to seating.
Not once in the last several months, Shabani said, has she had a crowd anywhere near 50% capacity. Like Halabi, she said, most times she sees far less than a 25% capacity crowd.
Shabani said there has been only one time she was busy enough to have to ask patrons to wait outside until enough capacity opened to let them in under county guidelines.
The customers ended up waiting in their car until they could be seated inside, Shabani said.
“I don’t expect that to work again, not now. People are getting tired of the pandemic. They’d probably leave and go someplace else where people aren’t asking these things out of them,” she said.
Shabani said she would adhere to the county’s 25% capacity recommendation because it’s systematic with the amount of foot traffic she is seeing.
She said she gives a “yes and no” vote to continued government recommendations on social distancing and crowd-limit recommendations. It’s in part because she has to—for her business’s own good but also her customers’ well-being.
“I’ll continue to take the same COVID measures because if I don’t have my customers to come back to patronize here, then I’m not going to have a business,” Shabani said.
“But if my customers, for example, are dying off one by one from COVID, I’m gonna go out of business either way.”
This article has been altered from an earlier version to include a restaurant owner's comments on the prospect of more federal COVID-19 stimulus being released to small businesses.
Eric Grimes remembers sleepover parties with Dallas Garza back in the late 1990s, when Garza introduced Grimes to flight-simulator programs.
“I’d literally wake up at 3 in morning, and he’d still be flying helicopters and old Cessnas,” Grimes recalled.
Friends and family said Garza dreamed about flying helicopters from a young age. He achieved his dream as an adult, flying UH-60 Black Hawks for the U.S. Army.
Garza was flying a helicopter that crashed off the coast of Egypt on Thursday. The 34-year-old was one of seven members of an international peacekeeping unit who died.
Friends and family remembered Garza on Monday as smart, motivated and charismatic but also as a man who always took the time to help those around him.
“His smile just lit up the room wherever he went. Just one happy dude, larger than life,” said Grimes, whose friendship with Garza continued in adulthood.
Garza grew up in Janesville but left during his junior year at Parker High School to join his father, who settled in Texas. Garza decorated his flight helmet with the flags representing his family in both states.
Grimes remembered playing on basketball teams with Garza in ninth and 10th grades: “He was always offering words of encouragement to everyone on the team, trying to motivate people. That’s just what he did. It was in his personality.”
A soldier who flew with Garza wrote on a memorial Facebook group: “We were grabbing our bags off a truck. Dallas had his hands full, and I tried to carry his bags for him. He told me to put his bags down. I said it was OK, but he insisted that I put them down and told me, ‘If you can bring it, you can carry it.’”
“Many times, pilots have treated me and other crew chiefs like errand boys, but Dallas refused to do that,” the crew chief wrote. “He showed us respect and always took the time to teach new things. There are few pilots I have respected as much as him.”
“Dallas made everyone around him better,” wrote another soldier. “To be honest, I don’t even think it was a conscious thing. It’s just what happened. Let’s face it, he could have done anything with his life and would have been madly successful, because he was incredible intelligent, tenacious, and put his entire self into everything he did.”
Garza joined the Army in 2005, his mother, Belinda Swinney of Janesville, recalled.
His father and grandfather also served in the military, and he wanted to follow in their footsteps, Swinney said.
Garza worked as a crew chief on Black Hawks and served in Afghanistan and Iraq. He became a warrant officer in 2010.
He was assigned to the peacekeeping mission last January, according to news reports.
“He was making a career out of it because he loved to fly,” Swinney said. “He loved the Army. He was a proud soldier, and he loved his country.”
One fellow soldier wrote on Facebook: “If you’ve ever flown with Dallas you know how good he was behind the controls. He had a level of skill and intuition that isn’t teachable.”
Garza was scheduled to join a Special Operations Aviation Regiment, which supports special forces missions, next year, Grimes said.
Garza married and had two children, both girls, Swinney said. They later divorced.
Garza proposed marriage to his girlfriend the day before the crash, said Aurora Long, one of Garza’s three sisters.
Long recalled going on trips with Garza, including one to Las Vegas. She said Garza never wanted to tell people he was in the military or take advantage of discounts businesses offered to veterans.
“He really loved his country. He said he didn’t care who was president. He would serve his country no matter what,” Long said. “He loved his job and protecting people. He never wanted a thank-you.”
Garza was assigned to the Multinational Force & Observers near the resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh on the Red Sea coast. Thirteen countries contribute peacekeepers to the force, which is tasked with monitoring borders and compliance with the 1979 Israel-Egypt peace accord.
Five U.S. soldiers died in the crash, in addition to a Czech officer and a French peacekeeper, according to news reports. The cause appears to be mechanical, but an investigation will be conducted.
Swinney noted one U.S. soldier survived the crash and was hospitalized.
Swinney said details of the funeral, to be held in San Antonio where his father lives, have not been set, but she has heard people are coming from Egypt, Afghanistan, Iraq and Hawaii, all places where Garza served.
“I’m a very proud mama,” Swinney said. “He had a lot of life to live, but he died doing what he wanted to do.”
“He had that dream,” Grimes said. “He didn’t want to settle for second best, and he never did. He wasn’t cocky about it, either. He’d always bring people along with him.”